Last week, the idea of the "Sunday Night Football" affair between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders ending in a tie was originally bought to light. If the Colts lost to Jacksonville earlier in the day, then the Raiders and Chargers would both make the playoffs if they played to a tie on Sunday night.
Most people disregarded the idea. It would require everything to break a certain way. Even if the Colts lost as a 15-point favorite, would the Chargers and Raiders cooperate? Well, by the end of Sunday night, the idea wasn't so crazy. As a result, sportsbooks were on the edge of their seats.
The situation developed perfectly and organically
For this situation to develop, the first and most important aspect might have been the most unlikely to happen.
The Indianapolis Colts were in a relatively favorable spot. They simply needed to win their game and they clinched a playoff spot. They had the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars standing between them and the playoffs. The Colts were 15-point favorites.
Unsurprisingly, the game wasn't particularly close. The surprising part was that it was the Colts who were dominated for most of the game. Carson Wentz couldn't move the ball, Jonathan Taylor was held in check and Trevor Lawrence methodically moved the ball for one of the rare times in his rookie season.
With the Colts losing, the door was opened for the "tie game." If the Chargers and Raiders played to a tie, both would make the playoffs. If not, the winner would make the playoffs, the loser would be eliminated and the Pittsburgh Steelers would make the playoffs.
Some speculated the teams would play ultra-conservative and have a gentlemen's agreement to play to a tie. That wasn't the case. They played a real football game. The Raiders had a 15-point fourth quarter lead.
However, Justin Herbert wasn't done. He led a touchdown drive to cut the lead to seven. The Chargers defense held and got the ball back to Herbert with a touch over two minutes remaining. Herbert then executed a drive filled with fourth-down conversions, pivotal defensive penalties and replay reviews. With two seconds left on the clock, he hit Mike Williams in the end zone. The extra point tied the game, sending it to overtime.
In overtime, the teams exchanged field goals. When Vegas got the ball back, they slowly moved the ball down field. With the ball near midfield, the clock was ticking under two minutes. Vegas was in no rush and the Chargers didn't seem to object. At one point, you could feel the energy and that energy was saying "wow, these teams are going to tie."
Prior to a pivotal third-down play with under 40 seconds remaining, Brandon Staley called a timeout. This timeout seemed to flip the energy and the Raiders decided to play for the win. Daniel Carlson hit a 47-yard field goal as time expired to win the game, prevent the tie, send Las Vegas to the playoffs and eliminate the Chargers.
The game was extremely entertaining and it seemed like the whole football world outside of Pittsburgh was rooting for a tie. The storylines would have been epic. However, Steelers fans aren't the only group extremely happy that the game ended with a winner and no tie.
A tie would have cost sportsbooks millions
With the narrative in place prior to kickoff, a bunch of bettors backed the game to end in a tie for obvious reasons.
If the game ended in a deadlock, BetMGM faced a high six-figure loss. It seemed like bettors were going to cash in big until they didn't.
Across the betting industry, a tie would have cost sportsbooks millions of dollars. Some books faced a potential nine figure loss if the game ended with no winner.
Many bettors backed madness and were almost handsomely rewarded. Plenty of bettors across social media posted potentially lucrative tickets had the Raiders decided to sit on the clock instead of attempting a field goal.
One popular bet was a two-leg parlay. Plenty of bettors parlayed the Jaguars to win and Raiders-Chargers to end in a tie. The Jaguars were +750 to win and as mentioned above, a potential tie would have paid out 80-to-1. If you parlayed the two outcomes, the bet paid nearly 700-to-1. A $5 parlay on Jaguars win, Raiders-Chargers tie would have paid nearly $3,500.
Nevertheless, it wasn't meant to be. Sportsbooks breathed a sigh of relief. At least bettors have a hell of a story about their near crazy win.
The Raiders are in, the Steelers are in and the Chargers are out.
On to the playoffs.